Surprise Visitor

The best time to see and photograph birds at the feeders is when it’s cold. Why? Because burning calories is the best way for birds to create body warmth; when the temperature drops, they come calling.

Though I’m not an expert, I’ve been feeding and watching birds for many years, so I was astonished when a friend pointed out I had misidentified a small bird in my previous post. What I thought was a goldfinch in its winter colors was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet–a tiny, surprise visitor who travels south for the winter but is relatively rare in the Upstate.

Here’s the species description from the Audubon website: 3 3/4-4 1/2″ (10-11 cm). Tiny. Similar to Golden-crowned Kinglet, but greener, with no face pattern except for narrow white eye ring. 2 white wing bars with dark area beyond second. Males have tuft of red feathers on crown, kept concealed unless bird is aroused.

Visit the website here for more information and to hear the Rudy-crowned Kinglet’s song.

My best photo, so far, of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

My best photo, so far, of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

After watching the bird carefully for a couple days, here’s what I can tell you. He comes to the feeder alone but seems happy to be here. I’ve only seen his ruby crown patch in action once, and only for a fraction of a second, when he fluttered into a group of birds waiting for their turn at the feeder. Sometimes he waits in one of the many tall camellias, but more often than not, he perches among the twiggy branches of a low-growing wintersweet (Chimonanthus). He only eats at the suet feeder, and when the coast is finally clear, he flutters up and hovers in front of the feeder, franticly beating his wings for a second before finally taking hold. In the bush, his body shape is round like a Carolina Wren, at the feeder he seems more streamlined.

Though I haven’t captured a well-focused image of him in the shrub, the photos below crack me up. What a sweet, funny little bird!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet perched in wintersweet.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet perched in wintersweet.

What an expression!

What an expression!

Fingers crossed for all the birds tonight, since the temperature in the Upstate is predicted to drop into single digits. If you feed birds, please make sure your feeders are full today.

5 thoughts on “Surprise Visitor

  1. Pauline

    What a cute little bird, it looks similar to our Goldcrest or Firecrest which are our smallest birds, just a bit smaller than a wren. I agree with you asking people to fill their feeders, we feed ours all year round so they all know where to find food and don’t waste energy having to go and look for it. We have seen on the news, all the snow and ice that you are having at the moment, stay warm and safe!

  2. Debbie Shaughnessy

    Hi Marian, I have one visiting me this year as well. He hovers around my kitchen windows (probably fascinated with the image of himself!) and gets excited/agitated, the red tuft on top of his head bursting up. Fun to watch! Love your blog!

  3. Evelyn JW

    Those pics are excellent of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Debbie is correct, if he sees himself reflected, that is the best chance to see the crown.

  4. Carla Martinez

    Hi Marian and Happy New Year!

    I have had the same bird at my suet feeder for the last two weeks. I couldn’t figure out what it was and assumed it was a finch without the yellow. I finally identified it with my bird book because I had not been seeing the red spot on his head. Once I did see it I knew what it was. I am in love with his petite nature and the fact that he is quite feisty with the competiton. What a coincidence we are having them at the same time!!! Bird watching helps me get through the winters.


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